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Cattle in the capital, managed well, can improve nutrition and health in Kenya’s slums

Urban zoonoses and food safety: Nairobi

Leornard Gitau, a small-scale livestock farmer in Dagoretti, Nairobi speaks to journalists during a media tour of urban farmers in Nairobi on 21 Sep 2012 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

In the Nairobi suburb of Dagoretti, ‘Leonard Gichuru Gitau is a city dweller, but it doesn’t take a detective to see that he is also a livestock farmer. The lowing of cattle greets visitors to his neatly built home of timber and sheet metal on the western outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, as the scent of manure hangs in the air.

‘Wedged between the structures on his small plot are freshly stacked maize stalks, which over the next few days will be used as fodder. The remains of feed cleaned from the troughs will be mixed with the dung cleared from the sheds to make manure for the coming planting season.

‘”There was a city bylaw which was restricting urban agriculture,” says the 71-year-old farmer. “But it was later withdrawn, after we showed the officers that we could farm in a safe and clean environment.”

‘Gitau represents a trend. The United Nations Environment Programme, headquartered in Nairobi, says cities in Africa are growing faster than anywhere else.

Cows, goats and chickens are part of that growth, especially in informal settlements on the urban periphery. One in 80 Dagoretti households keeps cattle, with an average of three per household, according to the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

‘”The dairy sector is a rapidly growing area with the potential to feed urban populations,” says Dr. Amos Omore, a veterinary epidemiologist with ILRI. “If it is given the necessary support, it can contribute a good share of revenue to a country’s GDP.”

‘It can also help to address a hidden crisis. In Kenya, nearly 46 percent of children—even if they ingest enough calories and appear healthy—are so undernourished as to be “stunted”.

‘Most children in poor communities like Dagoretti subsist largely on maize—corn meal—porridge, with too little protein or nutrients. Meat is rarely affordable. Beans require scarce water and fuel to cook. There are few nearby vendors of eggs or vegetables. . . .

‘The meat, milk and eggs produced or sold by city households produce revenue and protection from food-price volatility, as well as improved nutrition and health.

‘Thanks in part to those benefits, the government of Kenya has decided to post veterinary, animal production and crop personnel in major urban centres. Their job is to promote keeping animals and growing food crops in the often densely packed edges of expanding cities—and to do so in ways that protect public health. . . .

‘City residents spend about 40 percent of their income on food, and milk is third on their list, after wheat and maize, according to ILRI. Almost 80 percent of Kenya’s milk is produced by small farmers.

‘One of them, Samuel Ndung’u Kiriba, chairs the Dagoretti dairy farmers group and has been supplying milk to his neighbors through informal retailers for five years. He says milk sales have enabled him to send his five children to school. “My three cattle can fetch me at least a thousand Kenya shillings [about U.S.$12] in a day,” he says.

‘Alongside the advantages of urban farming, there are unsanitary conditions and weak infrastructure—such as a lack of toilets and clean water—that mean livestock could increase pollution and disease. Additionally, most of Kenya’s poor depend on informal markets, where food escapes effective health and safety regulation.

‘Zoonoses, diseases passed from animals to humans, and diseases recently emerged from animals, make up 26 percent of the infectious disease burden in low-income countries, compared with 0.7 percent in high-income countries, according to a study led by ILRI and the University of Nairobi and published in the journal Tropical Animal Health and Production. . . .

Urban zoonoses and food safety in Nairobi

ILRI scientist Delia Grace is interviewed by BBC and AllAfrica.com before the start of a journalist tour of urban livestock farmers in Nairobi that ILRI organized on 21 Sep 2012 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

‘There are measures farmers can take to reduce the risk of transmitting disease. “These [include] wearing gloves, protective clothing, cleaning the cattle shed regularly, making sure children do not come into contact with manure and boiling milk,” says ILRI researcher Delia Grace. She and her colleagues used what they call an “ecohealth approach” in the study. It involves the affected communities in all stages of the research and analysis, allowing them to describe their own problems and develop action plans for improvement.

‘The farmers are hopeful that the economic and nutritional benefits of their practices will outweigh the potential health risks. . . .

‘Kenya’s constitution, adopted by popular referendum in 2010, in Article 43 gives every person the right “to be free from hunger, and to have adequate food of acceptable quality.” The residents of Dagoretti have a way to go before securing that right, but they can hold their government accountable in their quest.’

Read the whole story, which was produced in collaboration with the Institute of Development Studies, at at AllAfrica: Cattle in the capital: Urban agriculture comes to town, 23 Oct 2012.

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